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In 'The Merchant of Venice' in Act 1 Scene 3, Shylock is described as being 'the devil' by Antonio. To what extent do you agree that he is the villain in the play?

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Introduction

In 'The Merchant of Venice' in Act 1 Scene 3, Shylock is described as being 'the devil' by Antonio. To what extent do you agree that he is the villain in the play? William Shakespeare wrote 'The Merchant of Venice' in about 1597. It was first performed by The Chamberlain's Men at the Theatre Shoreditch. The Merchant of Venice was in the repertory of Shakespeare's company before they took up residence at the Globe in 1599. The play was written as a comedy, but has become a serious drama. In order to answer the question it is vital to look at the pervading views of the society when it was first performed. Ridiculing a stereotypical Jew was fashionable in Elizabethan drama because it reflected the commonly held view that Jews were to blame for everything from economic problems to child murder and the plague. In 1597 England was a Christian country and many disliked, often despised Jews. At the time that Shakespeare wrote 'The Merchant of Venice' Jews were exiled from Britain and many Christian European countries, unless they converted to Christianity. The character of Shylock therefore confirmed the audience's view of history and anti-Semitic feelings. A modern audience, unaware of the history may have a different view of Shylock. The Elizabethan audience would have most definitely thought that Shylock was a villain and would have felt no sympathy towards him. The Elizabethan Christians particularly disliked Jews because of their profession of lending money and charging interest, which was Shylock's profession. ...read more.

Middle

In Act One Scene Three, Shylock begins by speaking in prose to Bassanio. However, this changes to verse when Antonio enters, showing a shift in tone and emotion. This could also be because Shylock is the one being asked the favour and so he has a higher status, he is also speaking to someone of a higher status and importance than him. Prose is non-rhyming text without a formal or rigidly imposed structure and is often used in the comical scenes or by low-status characters in 'The Merchant of Venice'. Verse occasionally rhymes and follows specific line structure and format. Characters of high status often use it. Shylock had a low-status as a Jewish character but does speak in verse on occasion during the play. The change at the beginning of Act One, Scene Three, allows Shakespeare to create more of a dramatic impact, it causes tension within the audience and helps to intensify the impact of Antonio's entrance. In Act 4 Scene 1, the trial scene, Shylock is still being discriminated against because of his faith. The Duke orders someone to go and 'call the Jew into court'. We already know that the Duke is going to be biased against Shylock. The Duke has stripped Shylock of his name. The Duke calls Antonio by his name but calls Shylock 'Jew'. This shows that throughout the scene the Duke is going to be biased towards Antonio and his decision to do this will also influence the rest of the court. ...read more.

Conclusion

In his speech Shylock outlines the fact that everyone is the same, everyone has affections and feels love, everyone feels pain and hurt and so if everyone is equal then why shouldn't everyone be treated equally. I do not believe that it is possible to say categorically that Shylock is the villain. There are a number of scenes where he is portrayed as a villain. The most obvious example is in the courtroom scene where he insists on the performance of the bond to the letter. His justification is purely given in terms of his hatred for Antonio. He says: 'So can I give no reason, nor will I not More than a lodged hating and a certain loathing I bear Antonio.' Shylock is not in a sense initiating the hatred. It is the reaction of a man from a race that has been vilified and persecuted over many centuries. There are therefore a number of examples in the text, where Shylock is portrayed as a victim. He is the subject of obscene name-calling. He is particularly hated as a moneylender. Ultimately he is forced to convert from Judaism to Christianity. There are no winners or losers, victims or villains when it comes to religious or racial hatred. Everyone is a victim, locked into a vicious cycle of intolerance that produces acts of inhumanity to members of a different race or religion. Shylock is both the victim of such acts of inhumanity, but also the villain who, admittedly out of revenge, perpetrates similar acts of inhumanity. On the one hand he wants mercy, on the other hand, he is not willing to dispense it. Page 1 5/4/2007 ...read more.

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